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Healthier Fast-Food Choices

These days it’s hard to go anywhere without spotting a fast food restaurant nearby. These restaurants offer simple and inexpensive meal choices when you can’t cook or eat at home. But there are some drawbacks to this convenience. Studies show that the more often you eat out and choose fast foods, the more likely you are to gain weight. This can lead to increased health risks over time. Does this mean you have to give up eating fast food altogether? No. But you do need to start making healthier fast food choices. This includes choosing more nutrition-packed items and eating smaller portion sizes.

Fast food trade-offs

To begin with, don’t get into a rut when you order. Choose healthier choices over less healthy foods. Try the following trade-offs.

Instead of ordering a:

Choose one of these:


Grilled chicken or turkey sandwich

Side of fries

Baked potato, cup of soup, or small salad with dressing on the side

Soda or milkshake

Carton of fat-free or low-fat milk, water, unsweetened tea, sparkling water, or other drinks with no added sugars

Burrito or taco

A lean-meat or all-vegetable sandwich wrap

Tips for healthier eating at fast food restaurants

Fast food isn't limited to just what’s on the menu. When you place an order, ask if you can make special requests. Most places will be glad to work with you.

  • Choose the medium- or small-sized choices when you order main dishes, sides, and beverages. If an adult meal is too large for you, try a kids' meal. Or split a meal with a friend.

  • Order your burger on whole-wheat buns or your sandwich on whole-wheat bread, if possible.

  • Don’t add salt to your meal. Fast foods tend to be higher in salt. Too much salt raises your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.

  • Don't have mayonnaise, sour cream, or special sauces. Ask for dressings, ketchup and mustard on the side.

  • Don't order high-fat sides. If you don’t want the fries or chips that come with your meal, ask that they not be included. If you can substitute something else, ask for extra lettuce and tomato instead.

  • Choose fresh fruit or yogurt for dessert. Pass up ice cream, pies, and pastries. These are more likely to be high in fat and sugar.

  • Don’t overeat. If you’re full, ask for a takeout box and save the leftovers for later.

  • Put leftovers in the refrigerator as soon as you can. Any food left at room temperature for over 2 hours should be thrown out.

  • Look at the calorie counts on the restaurant menu. Take this into account when choosing your meal.

Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Rajadurai Samnishanth MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tracy C. Garrett RNC-NIC BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.